Food for Thought: Weird Al and Parody

So did you know Weird Al, singer-songwriter extraordinaire, has been around since 1976? Like no joke, he’s been around for a very long time. But it seems like yesterday that I was bopping around to a CD and screaming “The Saga Begins” from his 90’s album, Running With Scissors (much to the dismay of my parental units). And every few years or so, Weird Al keeps us spinning with each new parody poking fun at pop-culture and reveling in the catchy qualities of the latest hits bent and twisted with new, ridiculous lyrics.

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He might have started in the 70s, but Weird Al remains a cultural icon for his pop parodies and personality.

So what is it exactly that makes Weird Al a surprisingly relevant musical figure—when the songs that he parodies sometimes fall off to the wayside as relics of their time?

I believe it was sometime in the early 2000s when I came across a printed (gasp) music magazine that made a pretty startling claim. Sometime before the 90s, a poll was once posed, asking Americans who would be more relevant in thirty years: Weird Al or Michael Jackson?

The resounding answer was Michael Jackson. But ask any twelve-year-old in the early 2000s who they were blasting on their little boomboxes and CD players? Probably Weird Al. And probably ironically something that parodied the King of Pop himself, like “Fat” or “Eat It.”

Which is an interesting part about his staying power, and perhaps about parody in general: the original songs might be a product of their times, but the jokes exist in an almost timeless moment. You don’t need to know the originals to appreciate the light-hearted humor and absurdity of the parodies. Sure the music videos take a pointed stab at the original content, often recreating cues scene by scene, but at the same time they stand on their own with nothing but the comedic gold—and the catchy melody—to keep the fans plugged in and happy.

In fact, you could argue that for all the jokes, and the nasally vocals, and the accordions, Weird Al has—whether intentionally or not—created a pretty neat compendium of the American pop scene thanks to his of work. He’s cataloged our hits and our changing, varied styles with his own twist and flair, sure, but a listen through a set of Weird Al songs is a unique taste of what was popular, way back when, before the nonsense like MP3 players and Vocaloids. Which is a pretty neat accomplishment for someone who thrives on staying unapologetically fun and “uncool”.

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Weird Al as “Cheese Sandwich”, with a clever grilled-cheese-accordion cutie market

It also doesn’t hurt that he has built for himself a pretty solid crutch of fame. In the era of YouTube stars, funny Vine compilations, and cat videos, I am still surprised when the younger set proudly belt out some of the Weird Al classics. He still makes the occasional guest appearance on just about anywhere from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to Adventure Time, and his concerts are still going strong.

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And yes he was the “Banana Man” in Adventure Time

So how does his new music for his new album, “Mandatory Fun,” hold up to so many years of nostalgia and, despite all the odds, some solid cultural relevance?

In my very humble opinion, he’s still one of the best out there when it comes to pop culture puns and general absurdity, and “Mandatory Fun” has got the chops to stay as something oh-so-relevant and timelessly funny, even when their originators go out of style.

Case in point? Robin Thicke’s arguably controversial “Blurred Lines” has had over a year’s worth of parodies and ridicule; many famous YouTube parodies exist that particularly focus on the implicit (creepy) sexist nature of the song or the inane randomness of the music video itself. With hundreds of videos already lambasting the original, Weird Al approaches the trouble of Thicke differently—but nonetheless in a way that just resonates with people.

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Weird Al’s “Word Crimes” takes the position of the infamous, nit-picky grammar police with that much needed touch of light-heartedness that sets Weird Al apart. “Blurred Lines” won hearts with its incredibly catchy, upbeat melody, and “Word Crimes” makes use of the same beat but there is something that has to be said about the clever lyrics (that aren’t nearly as offensive). Plus, the music video is a delight—especially for all your nerdy English major friends (like me!). Its typographic focus is spot on and serves to drive home the jokes about some of our most common mistakes—and it helpfully explains them, a bit, too.

Arguably, I can already see “Word Crimes” becoming some mantra for English teachers; self-proclaimed English majors on my Facebook feed have agreed on something (for once) and have all happily posted links on their walls. It’s even working its way amongst my colleagues—proving that even editors can agree on something, too. And for those offended by Robin Thicke, this light-hearted poke at the song that launched his career is so divorced of his message that who knows what will happen ten year’s down the line.

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Will we remember the controversy around Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines”? Perhaps.

But when people like Robin Thicke come and go on the tides of fame, I believe that in ten year’s time, goofy pre-teens will still, somehow know about Weird Al and the joy that comes out of his parody albums released every few years to jab at what’s new in pop and timeless in jokes.

Annnnnnnd that’s all there is for tonight’s Food for Thought! Tune in next time when we talk about more cultural things that may, or may not, be relevant in the future 🙂

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Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

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Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

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